It's time to put my money where my mouth is... as my father used to say. So I have some fresh milk in the refrigerator and plans to try to turn it into cheese. Last month I purchased several varieties of cheese cultures, which are now stored in my freezer. However, I'm not going to use any of them on this first attempt.
For one thing, cheese cultures in small packets are quite expensive... although a couple of them can be cultured into larger quantities and stored frozen in cubes that will keep at least a month. But by the time I do that, my milk may have spoiled, so it's a project for another time.
Most of the recipes I've read call for either 2 gallons of milk, or 5 gallons, and I only have 1 gallon, so the amounts of cultures to use are confusing to me. Typically, a gallon of milk will make only about a pound of cheese, which is a fairly small chunk. I can see the advantage of starting with a larger quantity of milk, considering the time and effort involved... and the curing/drying process.
But... this is what I have to work with, so it is what it is. I'm using the recipe from here.
The milk, the Greek yogurt as a starter, and my new temp probe.
The recipe said to sterilize everything in boiling water, including strainer, pot and lid, and cheesecloth. I hung the strainer and cheesecloth to air dry.
I even sterilized my whisk, which I will use to stir in the yogurt starter.
The next step was to heat gently to 68ºF and blend in the inoculum, which was 2-3 teaspoons of fresh buttermilk OR 1/3 cup yogurt. I only had yogurt available, and it wasn't very fresh so I used 1/2 cup. What this inoculation with a bacterial starter does is add the milk fermenting bacteria make lactic acid, which lowers the pH so that the rennet will be able to act on the casein (milk proteins) in the milk.
Cover the pot and let it sit at room temps (68º-72ºF) overnight.
I warm the milk to 86ºF and add 1/4 of a rennet tablet dissolved in 1/4 cup of cold water. Stir well, cover and allow to rest UNDISTURBED for about an hour, then check for a clean break. It may take longer, depending on room temps, pH of the milk... and only God knows what else!
|Not a "clean break"|
Well, up to this point everything was just hunky-dory. The directions said the rennet should coagulate in a couple of hours. I kept checking about every hour and after 5-6 hours went online and read the directions again. Nope, I didn't do anything differently. Just by pure chance, I went on to read Dr. Fankhouser's instructions for the same cheese, but made with 5 gallons of milk. In it, he says to skim the cream, which is not stated in the one gallon instructions. Grrrrrrrr.
I don't know if that's what made the difference in my batch or not, but I could not discern a 'clean break' and finally went to bed.
The next morning I discovered the top layer was kinda creamy but underneath it felt more like coagulated protiens, and I could see some whey. I decided not to waste a gallon of milk at this point, and went ahead with cutting the curds. It was more like trying to cut runny butter as the curds had very little body.
Next. I cooked my curds by bringing the heat slowly up to 102ºF for a firmer cheese. I was to leave them at that temp until the mess (I really cannot call them curds!) solidified to what he described as the consistency of firm scrambled eggs. Mine never got any better than soft-scrambled eggs. Then I started to drain off the whey and proceed anyway...
I had some baker's salt on hand, which is a very fine-milled salt just like cheese salt. Recipe said to add 2 teaspoons and stir. I don't know if I should have gone by taste alone, but it's too late now. It is a bit salty, and I'm hoping the whey draining away will remove some of it.
Next, put curds in cheesecloth and press to drain more whey.
I have the bamboo mat I use for rolling sushi as a drain under the mold, and it's in a jelly-roll sheet pan with edges to catch the whey. I'll keep an eye on it and drain as necessary.
Here's the mold with the "follower" sitting on top. I won't add weights via my homemade press just yet as there is so much whey... and the press will not fit IN the sheet pan.
After 2 hours, I have poured off 2 cups of whey from the sheet pan. The curd mass still is too soft to add any weight. When I do try, the cheesecloth/mass just squishes out the bottom of the mold.
I'm not giving up!
Later: My cheese seems to be doing just what it should, at least as far as how it looks. I was finally to put some weights on it after about 4 hours. Photo above shows it unwrapped. You can see the depression made by the folded-over cheesecloth.
I cut a new piece of muslin more to size, and re-wrapped it and inverting it in the mold.
Then back in the mold and weights added. That's a total of only 11 pounds, including the brick in the ziplock bag on top of the sugar canister. The cheese is still too soft to hold more weight without squishing out of the bottom. My press is a little unstable, which doesn't help. Unfortunately, I cannot do anything about it until it gets warmer and I can locate some parts out in the storage barn.
The Next Morning:
Well, I may be making cheese after all! There was some accumulated whey overnight, but hard to say how much since the house is so winter-dry and some had no doubt evaporated. I took the cheese out of the mold, washed the mat and tray, inverted the cheese back into the mold, and added more weights. That's 26 pounds on it in the photo.
|Out of Mold for the Last time, Still Wrapped in Cheesecloth|
The instructions say to unwrap the cheese, coat all over with salt, re-wrap in clean sterile cheesecloth, and refrigerate. It should be placed on a rack of some sort as it may weep for a few days. The clean cheesecloth needs to be changed daily as long as it continues to get wet from weeping.
Here it is, all 411 grams (almost a pound), now salted, wrapped in clean (boiled) cheesecloth, and ready to refrigerate!
Note: When it stops weeping in the refrigerator, it will have developed a rind and should be waxed to prevent further moisture loss. I will take pictures and post about it then, which should be in about 2-3 weeks, according to the instructions.